Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan
Rikuo Nura is the grandson of Nurarihyon, a legendary yokai and leader of the powerful Nura clan. Although he's only one-quarter yokai by birth, Rikuo can still wield his spiritual powers when needed—like in the current, ongoing battle with demon leader Hagoromo-Gitsune. Despite Rikuo's best efforts, Hagoromo-Gitsune has already spawned the thousand-year-old demon Nue (better known as Abe no Seimei), but her plan goes awry when Seimei reveals his own malicious intentions. Eventually Rikuo learns of how Seimei plotted against the Nura family in the past, and vows revenge against his newly risen foe. As the months pass, Rikuo begins to strengthen his clan's forces, with close allies like Tsurara (Yuki-Onna) watching out for local demon activity. But who will look out for Rikuo's own safety when he falls victim to a deadly urban legend?
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan offers readers a world of contrasts in Volume 16: first there's the grand conclusion to the long-running battle for Kyoto, then comes a handful of self-contained escapades that harken back to the series' early days. The finale to the big battle is a fitting one: not too rushed, not too draggy, and loaded with plot points that go well beyond the simple "strongest hero fights the strongest villain" formula. The short stories, meanwhile, are a welcome change in mood, despite being rather frivolous compared to what's just happened. In the end, it's a careful balancing act: letting the characters relax a bit after a major conflict, but also setting the stage for bigger things to come.
Before looking ahead to the next challenge, though, there comes the issue of settling what's happening right now. As it turns out, Rikuo's duel with Hagoromo-Gitsune was only a prelude to the true climax of the Kyoto saga: Abe no Seimei's awakening. Not only does he make a big first impression with his feats of mass destruction, but he reshapes the entire storyline, committing a serious act of betrayal and causing a rift among the demon forces. What's more, Rikuo learns of how Seimei pulled the strings behind the greatest tragedies in Nura family history, proving that the villains in this series aren't just there to get tougher and tougher, but also have a (sometimes shocking) connection to the hero's past. The plot almost gets overburdened as it tries to cover that back-story in a single chapter, but it pops back into the present day just in time, with Rikuo making an important decision that marks a brand new quest.
The second half of this volume provides a necessary respite from all the theatrics of the Kyoto arc. Side characters like Tsurara help in disposing of minor demons, readers get to see the lighter side of the yokai lifestyle (who knew the mountain-dwelling Karasu-Tengu had a wife and kids?), and the series as a whole returns to its folk tale roots. Why try to outdo the big shonen slugfests when simple but creepy ghost stories, rooted in tradition, can be just as thrilling? The last chapter, with its haunted forest setting and whispers of children being Spirited Away, is the perfect example of that—and it even throws in a cliffhanger at the end. However, occasional forays into comedy are less successful: the Karasu-Tengu episode is part of a New Year's chapter that basically stumbles from one goofball scene to another, and Tsurara's adventures involve a little too much chatting and milling about with the supporting cast. Much as this change of pace is needed, some of it veers dangerously close to filler.
As expected, the showdown with Seimei is this volume's artistic showstopper. Bold lines and brushstroke flourishes are already part of Nura's look, but the battle also brings in some fantasy-horror elements—creepy-crawly textures and evil auras straight out of the gates of Hell. On the other end of the scale, the more lighthearted chapters offer some new, whimsical character designs—and a slasher villain lurking in the shadows of the final chapter represents a departure from the usual nature-based spirits and mythical figures. Backgrounds are often just as ambitious as the creature designs, with action taking place in locales that range from burnt-out cityscapes to bustling markets to eerie forests. However, the crowded page layouts often get in the way of the artwork, squeezing elaborate details into too small a space and forcing readers to decipher the action (especially during chaotic scenes) instead of just enjoying the visuals.
The homage to Japanese folklore isn't just limited to story and artwork, either—the dialogue also leans a little toward old-fashioned, poetic language, especially when Seimei is speaking. As expected, most of his lines are the typical threats of a boss villain—but that doesn't stop Seimei from sounding menacing, and Rikuo has a few well-worded comebacks that reflect the boy's heroism. This translation also captures the somewhat formal tone used by certain characters (they are addressing a clan lord, after all), and keeps most of the traditional yokai names in Japanese. However, sound effects are edited from Japanese into English, with lettering styles that aim to match the artwork. The results are acceptable, but leaving the original Japanese characters would have done more to preserve the cultural flavor.
Usually, a manga volume that catches the end of one story arc and the start of another ends up being an oddly mixed bag of plot points—but this one keeps a steady focus on where it's headed. The last few scenes in Kyoto deliver one dramatic punch after another, most notably when Rikuo discovers his past connection to the evildoer Seimei. Then comes a much-needed lightening of the mood, but even then, Rikuo's future path remains in sight. The art is as detailed and dynamic as ever, occasionally trying out new styles, although it does get cluttered due to the sheer amount of action. Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan may have reached the end of a long, intense story arc in Kyoto, but after a quick break, it's more than ready for greater adventures ahead.
Overall : B-
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Dramatic twists, major back-story revelations, and an explosive battle all help to push the series in a new and promising direction.